Educational Participation in Communities (EPIC) promotes volunteer community service learning on campus
CAPTION: Student workers help fellow CSULA students find service opportunities and take part in programs like America Reads and America Counts tutoring program and toy and food drives.
Tucked into the first floor of the Career Development Center in the heart of the Cal State L.A. campus is a vibrant program that has had a big impact on the Los Angeles community for several decades.
Educational Participation in Communities (EPIC) promotes volunteer community service learning by University students and creates opportunities for them to implement classroom theory into real-life situations.
“EPIC has been about serving the community, by giving opportunities to our students to also serve the community, but at the same time, exploring their academic and career objectives,” said EPIC Executive Director Jorge Uranga,’79 who himself was a student member of EPIC in the 1970s.
This year, EPIC celebrates its 45th year of connecting Cal State L.A. students looking for work experience, service and volunteer opportunities with community nonprofits, schools and other agencies.
The program started in 1966 as the Vietnam War, civic unrest and nwome’s rights movements brought about dynamic change in culture and society, Uranga said. “The Watts rebellion in Los Angeles was a catalyst for our campus asking the question: What can we do to make a difference in our communities? To help address some of the problems that are being raised?” said Uranga.
“Student Affairs and Associated Students, Inc. got together to create EPIC with the idea that we would take our most precious resource on this campus—our students— and send them into the nonprofit community-based agencies and help serve the community in the areas of education, social services, and medical and legal support services,” he said.
Over the years, EPIC has partnered with hundreds of nonprofit community groups, ranging from the American Red Cross to Para Los Niños, Maravilla Foundation, LA Conservation Corp., Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and more.
What makes EPIC especially unique, though, is that the program is run by Cal State L.A. students supervised by a small number of University staff.
Students working as service learning coordinators gain skills and experience by researching volunteer opportunities, making contact with nonprofit agencies and securing positions for fellow students looking to complete course requirements, earn class credits or just to help others.
Through those roles, students learn how to be leaders, work on a team, operate in a professional environment and network, among other skills.
“I’m kind of a shy person,” said Denise Sandoval, special projects coordinator and a social work major. “But I feel like EPIC’s done so much for me, especially standing up in a crowd and talking to people, being able to connect professionally with the agencies. That’s definitely important, especially since I’m going to be a social worker. Having those connections is going to help me out a lot and help my clients out.”
In the Summer Youth Program, CSULA students serve as case workers to youths ages 14 to 21, placing them in campus jobs as office assistants or running personal development workshops, possible through grants from community partners.
“I feel like a teacher,” said Adal Osman, a Television, Film and Media Studies major and case worker for the 2011 Summer Youth Program. “When you’re older and you actually realize you’re mentoring someone, it’s like you’re maturing.”
The EPIC office buzzes with life on a daily basis as row after row of students call agencies, catch lunch in a sociable environment or prepare colorful banners and displays to help make events and celebrations even more special for participants.
EPIC also takes part in the national America Reads and America Counts program, which sets CSULA students up in inner-city elementary schools to tutor children achieving below grade level in reading and math.
Each year, after working with the children, EPIC hosts more than 300 youngsters on campus for “Cal State L.A., Here We Come.” During that day, the youths get an authentic college experience attending lectures, visiting with athletes, touring departments and lunching in the food court. It’s an opportunity to show the children that college is an option for their future.
“We tell those kids when they come on campus that ‘This is your university. You can go to college here. Cal State L.A. is the place for you,’” said Uranga. “And it just makes this very concrete and cements the idea in these kids’ minds that ‘yeah, I can go to college too.’”